Good call - I bet you are right that when Claudia said Garden she is talking about that grassy area you described by the pool instead of the spa garden.
I am doing all of my events back to back: ceremony at 4:30pm, cocktail hour 5:30-6:30pm, reception 6:30-9:30pm. We will take our bride & groom pictures before the ceremony (2pm-4pm) and then group/guest photos between the ceremony and cocktail hour (5:00-5:30pm, while the sun sets at 5:10pm).
I prefer the idea of keeping your guests moving from one event to another instead of sending off on their own. Two things to consider: 1) The sun is harshest at noon and least desirable for pictures, the closer to sunrise and sunset the better the lighting for photographers and 2) a later ceremony = not having to get to the salon as early! I emailed the spa and said I wanted to be out by 1:30pm (to start my pics at 2pm) and that there will be 4 of us for hair & makeup (bride, MOH, MOB, and MOG) and they are starting our appointments at 9:00am!!! Just something to consider.
I think looking for shot glasses once in Cancun is a good idea. As for the playing cards, Oriental Trading Company has 10 different options for personalized playing cards. Hopefully the link below will work. Their prices are MUCH better, but the designs they have might not be what you want/like.
I believe that you can have it by the spa garden because I know I have seen a pic on this site of a reception there. However the garden reception pics that I was sent by Claudia were of the grassy area by the pool, over that way. Which is still really beautiful because you can see the gazebo, pool, and ocean.
Question for everyone, how far apart are you doing the wed, cocktail hour, and reception. We are thinking wed at noon, the pics, then cocktail hour, then dinner at 4pm. I know it seems far apart but since we will be a small group I figure after the ceremony and pictures everyone could go freshen up in their rooms or sit at the bar in between the dinner times. I know all the weddings I went to there was always a huge gap and you socialized in between. Or should I move the wed until 2pm? Claudia thought my gap was big but she said it's up to me.
Bags for guest- I got brown gifts bags from Jo Ann Fabrics I did stencils on there of palm trees, hula girls, fish, and cocktails. I picked paints that really stood out, I just put Cancun, Mexico on there. No names or dates, more work then I imagined. I plan to put cards, crossword puzzle books, a bittle stoppers, and cocktail for dummies. Again I have a small group of 15-20 and they range in age so I tried to think of everyone. At the dollar store they have the crossword books, at Target for a dollar they have the cocktails for dummies. Anything else I plan to grab when I'm down there, that way I don't have to lug it in down there. If you buy say 10-20 shot glasses there I'm sure you can bargain for a good price. Sorry so long! Anyone know where to get personalized cards. At becup they wanted $70 for 24 packs (that's the min. you have to order) which includes the setup fee. That seems like alot of money to me!